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Family planning essential for women’s empowerment

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

International News

Women’s empowerment was on the global agenda in March, with both International Women’s Day and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) taking place.

The final outcome document of this year’s CSW details a range of changes that would make a difference to women’s lives.

The document includes calls for:

  • eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls.
  • the full, equal and effective participation of women in all fields and leadership at all levels of decision-making in the public and private sectors.
  • the development and implementation of educational programs for human sexuality.
  • the elimination of all harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation.
  • addressing discriminatory social practices, laws and beliefs that undermine gender equality.

There is no one-step solution to empowering women, but if one measure were to be singled out as particularly effective in enabling women to realise their rights, access to family planning would be a top contender.

In developed countries, where the empowerment of women has progressed more rapidly than other parts of the world, one of the most significant elements of their empowerment was the arrival of the contraceptive pill.

The contraceptive pill and other forms of contraception have given women freedom to choose if and when they want to become a mother; the freedom to plan.

“When a woman is prevented from choosing when to have children, it is not just a violation of her human rights. It can fundamentally compromise her chances in life and the opportunities for her children. Without access to family planning, pregnancy will often come far too early.”

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, speaking at the London Family Planning Summit in 2012.

This is not to say that universal access to family planning is the miracle solution that will automatically achieve gender equality, but without it, women will continue to be at the mercy of their fertility. As long as women lack access to family planning, they lack choice and opportunities.

There are still 222 million women in developing countries who would like to use modern contraceptives but do not have access to them. That is a staggering number of women; more than the population of the 5th largest country in the world, Brazil, and until they have that access, no other measures to empower them will be completely successful.

The integration of family planning into all initiatives to empower women is essential.

It is heartening to see that the final document of this year’s CSW reaffirms the sexual and reproductive rights of all women, calling for "universally accessible and available quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services, information and education."

But most importantly, we need to see this carried forward and included in the Millennium Development Goals’ successors - the Sustainable Development Goals.

These goals will be decided at a 'Heads of State and Government Summit' in September 2015 by all UN member states, and there is a strong call for a stand-alone goal for women’s empowerment.
Crucially, we need to fight for those 222 million women to ensure universal access to family planning is a key target.

Read the final outcome document on the UN Women website

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